Posted by Andrew Davies, managing director of Legal Futures Associate SpeechWrite
According to a report from the Law Society, Legal services sector forecasts 2017-2025, growth in overall legal sector employment is likely to decline, partly as a result of “increasing adoption of new technology and new working methods”.
It recorded predictions that “modest growth in the UK economy and the increasing use of labour-saving technology and new working methods in the sector, mean that total employment in the sector is unlikely to grow at the rates we have seen in the past.
“Furthermore, over a 20-year time horizon the number of jobs in the sector is likely to gradually decline.”
However, the report said job losses could be mitigated by increases in productivity from new technology and resulting reductions in unit labour costs of providing services, lowering the prices of services to consumers.
In light of these predictions, it’s more important than ever for law firms to prepare for the challenges ahead by adopting relevant technology and implementing new working methods. Below, we will take a look at some of the current technology available.
Working in the cloud
Agile working – where lawyers can work flexibly both in terms of location and time – is key to reducing much of the unnecessary expenditure associated with maintaining physical offices.
However, in order to successfully implement agile working, reliable and secure Cloud-based practice management software is vital. Even if an office is retained, fee-earners should be able to easily pick up where they left off, whether this is at client premises, while in transit or at home.
Digital dictation and automation
Any software (or hardware) which helps to automate routine legal work can drastically improve productivity rates. Effective dictation tools which transcribe as well as record – such as the Cloud-based solutions provided by SpeechWrite – reduces secretarial costs and streamlines workflow, allowing lawyers to dictate a letter and immediately have access to a draft, which they can check before sending on to a secretary, client or third party.
Other types of software can automate time-consuming processes such as end-of-month billing, freeing up the time of fee-earners to concentrate on billable work.
Chatbots and AI
Artificial intelligence (AI), as it currently stands, is essentially a sophisticated form of automation – software tools which can gradually learn and adapt are often referred to as AI.
For example, the SpeechWrite 360 voice recognition solution gradually adapts to a user’s voice and becomes more accurate, continually improving accuracy. This goes beyond dictation alone, allowing users to carry out a wide range of commands (primarily for Microsoft Office applications) by voice, such as starting a new email or printing a Word document.
Other types of AI being deployed by law firms include chatbots and predictive coding. The former is being used primarily as a first line of reception support, essentially directing website visitors to relevant information or contact details. The latter is a highly sophisticated AI tool which is used to assess the relevance of vast numbers of documents for purposes of electronic disclosure – and arguably displacing certain types of legal jobs (such as routine work carried out by paralegals).
AI can even be used to predict likely outcomes of cases by analysing the big data of court judgments and helping litigators form a strategy based on patterns – as with Lex Machina.
Legal research and templates
This is one of the areas where so-called digital disruptors are providing services to both lawyers and bypassing the legal sector altogether, offering DIY legal solutions to the general public.
This is particularly the case with legal document templates which are so cheap that law firms simply cannot compete, leading to major headaches for some high street firms which have traditionally relied upon routine process-driven work.
Similarly, many websites provide excellent free legal information which enables individual to undertake their own preliminary legal research, so that when they approach a law firm they will often be looking for specific advice rather than asking basic questions.
What should law firms be doing?
In order to mitigate any long-term threats posed to the legal sector by technology, the best thing that law firms can do is to adopt it and use it to their commercial advantage before their competitors.
However, it’s vital that they first assess exactly how and where technological solutions can provide benefit to their firm, only using tools which are most relevant to their practice.